TAMPA — Growth in property values is making it easier for City Hall to balance next year's budget.
Chief financial officer Sonya Little told the City Council on Thursday that the city is looking to close a revenue shortfall of $11.9 million as it puts together the budget that takes effect Oct. 1.
That's significantly less than the city's initial estimate of $19.2 million, and it's largely due to better-than-expected growth in property values.
After initially estimating that property values would grow 3 percent this year, Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez now is looking at a 5.4 percent increase. In Tampa, values appear to be up 5.7 percent compared with 2012 — the biggest increase in the county.
"It means the worst of the recession is over," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said this week. "Granted, we're capped because of what we can recoup back because of the Save Our Homes" limit on the growth of tax assessments on homesteads.
"The difference between what we were projecting at 3 percent versus what is seemingly turning out (to be) 5.7 percent translates to about $3 million," Buckhorn said. "That's all to the plus side."
Buckhorn is scheduled to present his proposed budget for next year July 25. The City Council will hold two public hearings on the budget in September.
In the meantime, Buckhorn is asking departments for a 5 percent reduction in spending, is trying to eliminate or leave open unfilled jobs and is looking at other possible efficiencies.
Little told council members during a budget workshop that city expenses for the current budget year are projected to run more than $7 million below the original budget.
"That's a huge decline, and it's largely due to savings related to our personnel costs," Little said. The city this year has seen a relatively large number of retirements, which typically involve employees at the higher end of the pay scales for their jobs.
Thanks to that and a few other encouraging developments, the city expects to take less than originally expected out of reserves, Little said.
Going into 2013, city officials balanced the budget with an expected $8.7 million from reserves. Now it looks like it "might be closer to $6 million, maybe less," Little said. That could leave the city with $108 million in reserves at the end of this budget year, or about 29 percent of city expenditures.